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THE LOCAL ZEITGEIST

BERLIN

‘Michelle is more popular than her husband’

The Local met a colourful crowd gathered to glimpse First Lady Michelle Obama in Berlin on Wednesday - from the Dutch man who came all the way to Germany to see her, to the commuter annoyed to find his way to work barred by police.

'Michelle is more popular than her husband'
Photo: Kate Ferguson

“I went up that tower yesterday!” Ruben Zoehout told The Local, pointing to the top of the watch tower at Bernauer Straße from where Michelle Obama and her daughters were surveying the remnants of the wall which once divided Berlin.

“It’s such a special feeling to think they’re up there at almost the same time,” he added.

Zoethout, a Dutch civil servant, drove all the way from Holland for the Obamas’ visit. “I came to absorb the atmosphere,” he said. “I got up at 6am this morning. Usually I find it hard to get up but this is just so exciting.”

For Zoethuot, Michelle Obama’s visit to Bernauer Straße – one of the few places in the city where original parts of the wall remain – is particularly significant.

“This is about creating a memory. Some of my friends said I was stupid to come all the way. But this is such a special moment. The world is moving closer together,” he said.

Berliner Claudia Wulff, as she craned her neck to get a glimpse at Michelle at the top of the tower, was not quite so impressed. “I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get a wave,” she said. Then added with a chuckle, “especially as this is such a women’s event!”

Wulff, who lives in the neighbourhood, nevertheless acknowledged Michelle’s visit to the area was “exciting.” However, she believed there wasn’t “much of a relationship” between the United States and Germany.

“I mean, he’s telling us to sort out the euro crisis,” she said. “Although I suppose he’s right.”

Her friend, Bibi-Sabira-Dul, who has roots in Pakistan and Afghanistan, piped up. “I’m very disappointed about Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay … I would tell Michelle that myself if I could.”

“There are innocent people in Guantanamo,” she told The Local. “Obama needs to realise that practicing your religion is not the same as being a terrorist.”

“Otherwise though I am quite content with him,” she said and agreed that Michelle Obama’s visit to this particular spot was important.

“This is where freedom began,” said Sabira-Dul. “It’s the centre of world freedom. This place is a reminder that division doesn’t work.”

Click here to see people gathered at Bernauer Straße to see the First Lady and her daughters.

For Sabira-Dul however, the gap between the Islamic and Western world is one politicians have so far failed to bridge.

Another person worried about bridging gaps of a much more concrete kind was Nam Tan, a software developer who works on the other side of the road, which police had cordoned off.

“I work over there!” he said. “I walked all the way around because the trains weren’t running. But now I’m stuck. I’m going to be late and I have a meeting.”

Tan wasn’t surprised however that Michelle Obama and her daughters had come to Bernauer Straße. “It’s part of Berlin’s history.” he said. “It’s the first place anybody coming to Berlin would go.”

For others gathered at the stretch of the former wall, Michelle Obama’s visit corresponded with their own first trip to Berlin. Christine von Hof, who lives outside of Frankfurt, had never been to Berlin before. “It’s simply unimaginable to think that this spot marked the division of the entire city,” she said.

Fellow German, Ulrike Full – a teacher – and her son Nicolas, were also hoping to get a glimpse of the First Lady at the historic spot. “My son was learning about the Obamas at school,” Full said. “I went to the museum here recently,” she said. “I would definitely recommend everybody visit it.”

Full said the Obamas were particularly popular among young people. “I’m talking about 15 and 16 year-olds,” she said. “For older people, it might be a slightly different story.”

Rudolf Nielsen, who is holidaying in Berlin this week, stumbled across the scene at Bernauer Straße by chance. He thinks the relationship between Germany and the United States has become more meaningful.

The First Lady, Nielsen said, was “more popular than her husband” though he acknowledged that her role was “easier,” or at least “different”.

Kate Ferguson

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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